Spying scandal brewing at HP

Hackers like Kevin Mitnick call it "social engineering." Other folks call it plain old lying. But today's private investigators have a new word for obtaining information under false pretenses; they call it "pretexting," and it's apparently big business.

One recent customer was HP chairwoman Patricia Dunn. It seems our distinguished competition at CNet reported information that could only have come from the HP boardroom, and Dunn was determined to find the leak. According to Newsweek, her decision to use pretexting to obtain the private phone records of other board members could land her in hot water.

Newsweek sources say Dunn analyzed the phone records, determined who the leaker was, announced her findings at the next board meeting, and demanded that the leaker resign from the board. The leaker refused, but board member Tom Perkins, who was not the leaker, did resign. In a letter to the board, Perkins characterized Dunn's actions as "untoward and illegal." He goes on to question the validity of recent HP filings with the Securities and Exchange Commisison, which failed to document the reason for his resignation.

Did Patricia Dunn go too far to protect HP's trade secrets, or do a company's best interests sometimes call for unusual measures? Is pretexting a legitimate information-gathering technique or just an underhanded trick? And was Perkins right to resign his place on HP's board while the leaker -- and Dunn -- still remain? Let us know what you think.